June 16, 2010

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

When I called to E to read him yet another passage from this book the other night, he replied with a grin,

You've got a complete girl-crush on Barbara Kingsolver

And it's true. I've sincerely enjoyed all of the other books of hers that I've read. I've heard the complaint that her writing can be a bit preachy, and that may be fair. But since I don't find her gospel particularly offensive, when she slips in that direction, I tend to forgive her. Also, her later writings (such as this one, in 2007) have a much broader perspective and lack the lecturing that may have turned folks off in her earlier works.

But this book was different. This one was autobiographical, so I wasn't just enjoying her writing, I was actually enjoying her life. And, it just so happens that this portion of her life is the story of a rural-rooted urban-educated woman undertaking a food and farm adventure that is squarely after my own heart.

As a gardener and food enthusiast with a desire for scientific and empirical explanations for decisions in those areas, I couldn't wait to turn the pages to see what she'd show me next about the complexities of the food system that feeds us (the local food business, the multinational agribusiness, and the details you learn from growing, tending, harvesting, and preparing the majority of your own food).

On the whole, it was entertaining, educational, and inspirational. I can't wait to apply some of the recipes to my harvest this year.

Plus, her turns of phrase were often so clever and entertaining that I'd grin to myself with pleasure. She chose *that* word to describe *that*? How wonderful!

In short, this book was a joy for me. If you think it may be for you as well, I've included some of my favorite quotes to help you decide whether you'd like to dive in:

Plants have the karmic advantage of creating their own food out of pure air and sunlight, whereas we animals, lacking green chlorophyll in our skin, must eat some formerly living things every single day.

The antipathy in our culture between the urban and the nonurban is so durable, it has its own vocabulary: (A) city slicker, tenderfoot; (B) hick, redneck, hayseed, bumpkin, rube, yokel, clodhopper, hoecake, hillbilly, Dogpatch, Daisy Mae, farmer's daughter, from the provinces, something out of Deliverance. Maybe you see where I'm going with this. The list is lopsided. I don't think there's much doubt on either side, as to which class is winning the culture wars.

Wendell Berry summed it up much better than "blue and red" in one line of dialogue from his novel Jayber Crow, which is peopled by farmers struggling to survive on what the modern, mostly urban market will pay for food. After watching nearly all the farms in the country go bankrupt, one of these men comments: "I've wished sometimes that the sons of bitches would starve. And now I'm getting afraid they actually will."

On Italy:
It's a culture that sweeps you in, sits you down in the kitchen, and feeds you so well you really don't want to leave.

Here's to summer and making good use of the tomato recipes in this book!


Arvay said...

And zucchini! Her zucchini problem made me laugh, because while I could relate, she had it to another order of magnitude!

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The Enforcer said...

I read The Poisonwood Bible, and just when I thought the story had reached its climax, it dragged on and on and on for another almost hundred pages. Sometimes, she falls in love with her characters a little too much...

This sounds different, though. Maybe if I were more into gardening, I'd give it a shot...

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